New Guest Connection Strategies for the 21st Century – Episode 104 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

EP. 104

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What’s Working, What’s Not, and How to Use Texting
to Be More Effective

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When we’re on the ground serving churches, there are some common ways we’re seeing churches struggle when it comes to guest connection. For example, they aren’t creating experiences with new guests in mind.

In other words, they’re not expecting guests for their weekend services. Or, they haven’t clearly defined who they’re trying to reach: Their mission field and who within that mission field they’re trying to connect with as a church.

Sometimes, they just don’t have an intentional plan to identify, welcome and follow up with their new guests. And if they do have a plan, it’s often too cumbersome for a new guest to engage.

In this episode, Amy and I invited Sean Bublitz to join us for a conversation about why the most common strategies for new guest connection don’t work very well anymore. We dig into:

  • The underutilized method for connecting with new guests we’ve seen some churches use that’s working incredibly well
  • How to bring your guest connection strategy into the 21st century
  • The strategies that DON’T work anymore (including a creepy one you should stop right now, if you’re doing it)
  • What it means that people don’t like to be sold to but they do like to buy, and how that principle can influence your strategy
  • Real-life examples of how churches are making this shift and making it practical
If you don't have a great way to get new guests to acknowledge they're in the room during their first visit, your chances of getting them to come back aren't very good. #unstuckchurch [episode 104] Click to Tweet The most common strategies for new guest connection at church don't work very well anymore. #unstuckchurch [episode 104] Click To Tweet

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Sean: 00:02 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. How many new guests do you see in your church each week? I’ll bet you would agree it’s far more than the number turning in the new guest card. Getting new guests to admit that they’re in your church is hard. What if there were a more effective way? Could it be that some of our systems are dated and overly complicated? This week on the podcast, I joined Tony and Amy for a discussion about a more 21st century way to connect with your first-time guests. Make sure before you listen to subscribe to get the show notes in your email each week. You’ll get one email with all of the info, including the leader guide, the resources we mentioned during the episode, and bonus resources to go along with the content. You can sign up by going to Also, you can grab the show notes today by visiting And now here’s the conversation on the 21st-century version of new guests follow up with Tony, Amy and me.

Amy: 01:05 This week on the podcast, we’re taking a look at a more 21st century way to connect and follow up with new guests in your church. And I’m joined as always by Tony Morgan, but also by Sean, who’s one of our ministry consultants and back on the podcast with us.

Sean: 01:19 Hey Amy. Thanks for having me back.

Amy: 01:20 Tony. We’ve seen that this topic of connecting with new guests and our churches as one that leaders are really interested in. Some of our most downloaded podcast Sean, I believe have to do with connecting with new guests, right? But we hear time after time that many churches struggle with it. Why do you think that’s the case?

Tony: 01:38 Well, first of all, I’m just glad that churches are concerned about it and that this is a huge felt need because it’s just a confirmation for me that there are people in our churches leading our churches that love Jesus, that love others, and want others to experience the same transformation in our lives that we’ve experienced through our relationship with Jesus. However, we do see that there are some common ways that churches struggle when it comes to guest connection. For example, they aren’t creating experiences with new guests in mind. In other words, they’re not expecting guests for their weekend services. Secondly, they haven’t clearly defined who they’re trying to reach. They haven’t defined their mission field and who within that mission field, they’re trying to connect with as a church. Third, they don’t have an intentional plan to identify, welcome, and follow up with their new guests. And then finally, if they have a plan, it’s just too cumbersome for a new guest to engage with. So, those are some of the common challenges we’re seeing on the ground as we’re engaging with churches. They say they want to connect with our guests, but they’re struggling with their approach.

Amy: 02:49 Yeah. Sean, maybe we can start there with Tony’s last point. What is some way churches are trying to identify and follow up with new guests that just don’t seem to be working? So what are the that aren’t working?

Sean: 03:00 Yes, well here’s the most common and new guests connect and follow a plan that I’ve seen. At some point in the service, normally after you know, several songs and some announcements, new guests are finally mentioned and then they’re encouraged to fill out some kind of information card, normally something that they have to write on with pen or pencil and then take that to a designated area like an info center or a guest center after the service for a gift. There’s no mention of what the gift is, just that they’re getting something. But here are a few challenges with this particular strategy. If I’m a first-time guest, you’ve likely waited until too far into the service to acknowledge me and I probably feel like I’ve walked into somebody else’s family dinner uninvited. And so far it’s just been really awkward.

Sean: 03:42 Churches need to be acknowledging that they have new guests a lot sooner in their service. Second, you’ve asked me to fill something out in the ancient form of handwriting. Who does that any more? Right? Maybe it’s a lost art, but anytime I write by hand, I get a hand cramp in about two minutes. And other than the doctor’s office, we just don’t fill things out in analog anymore.

Tony: 04:04 I’m just going to tell you, Sean, I do visit churches periodically and they ask every guest to, I mean, commonly this is a common occurrence. They asked the guests to fill out a card. I have never filled out a single card in my entire life when I get to that point. So yeah, I, I just, I don’t do that anymore.

Sean: 04:23 Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. And lastly, you’ve asked me to take yet another step on my own and go somewhere to give this card to someone that I don’t know to get some gifts that I haven’t clue what I’m getting. And I don’t know when the last time was that that you as a leader personally visited a church and did this on your own, but I encourage you to try it because it can be really intimidating. It’s, it’s likely that you’re not getting your first-time guest to do it. If you’re really lucky, they’ve come back on the third or fourth time and then they’re a little more comfortable with you and then they might take that step, but not on the first visit. Just one quick additional rant about the value of information. I’ve been in some churches where if you do take the step to give them your information for this gift, you get very little in return. It may be a cheap coffee mug and a bunch of additional brochures and information about the church, but the information is not free anymore. Our culture is way too aware of the dangers of people having our information and people aren’t willing to share that information for nothing in return. And when they’re underwhelmed with your gift, it communicates a value that you’ve placed on knowing who they are.

Amy: 05:29 Well, Sean go back a bit. You mentioned that people are more likely to fill out a card on their third or fourth visit rather than their first. I think some churches would say that’s still a win, that their strategy is effective. How, how do you respond to that?

Sean: 05:44 Yeah, I agree – that’s a huge win. If you can get them to come back a third or fourth time and if you can get their info at that point, but without being able to connect with them on their first visit, the odds that you’ll actually get to return go drop down dramatically. Some of the churches who are doing this, the best with well resourced and intentional follow-up strategies are seeing less than 40% of their first-time guests return. So if you don’t have an effective strategy, you’ll be lucky to see half of that number. We’ve talked about this before on the podcast, but Gary McIntosh and Charles Arne had some helpful data at data in their book, “What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church”, they found that the typical growing church will see 20% of their first time guests become part of the church. They’ll see 40% of the second time, yes, become part of the church and close to 60% will become part of the church after their third visit. So, you can see how important it is to get those first-time guests to return. If you don’t have a great way to get them just to raise their hand and acknowledge that they’re in the room during their first visit, your chances of getting them back aren’t very good.

Amy: 06:53 Thank you, Sean. That helps us understand why one of the more common strategies isn’t working anymore. But Tony, we mentioned that we have a more 21st century way to accomplish this first-time guest connection, We’ve been building up to it. So what is it?

Tony: 07:08 And I love this sarcastic approach that we’ve helped to identify the challenge cause I’m always a fan of sarcasm, but hopefully, hopefully, it hasn’t been too much buildup because when you hear this you’re going to think, well of course – the method that we’ve been seeing working incredibly well in churches are utilizing texting as the primary followup method. And when you think about it, it just makes sense. What do we have in our hands, the majority of our day? Our phones. And what is our primary mode of communication? Our phones. This is just more natural and yes, 21st century way, for us to connect with new guests in our church. And I think there’s something very specific about the method of texting as well. Texting is less invasive. If I get a text from you, I can respond at my convenience. If I get a text from you that is just communicating information about events and I may not even feel the need to respond if I’m attending your church.

Tony: 08:09 I don’t have to have the courage to initially meet you face to face, which we introverts really appreciate. I can just let you know that I attended, uh, that may seem impersonal, but put yourself in the shoes of our first-time guests. You don’t know what you don’t know. And many people connecting to our churches for the first time, they’re more concerned about what you think of them than anything else. They’re afraid of being judged or seen as an outsider. So using texting makes it easier for them on their very first visit to engage and acknowledge that they’re around.

Amy: 08:45 Sean, we mentioned that we’ve seen this working effectively in churches. Can you share some best practices and what you’ve seen churches doing that’s produced good results?

Sean: 08:54 Absolutely. Let’s just talk through what a common process looks like. Churches will commonly have a keyword that guests can text to a specific number. Maybe it’s a text, hello or new. So during the service, we’re going to welcome new guests at the beginning of the service and invite them to say, “hi” by texting hello to five, five, five, five, five or whatever your number is. When they text that number, we’re going to give them something in return. Maybe we commit to giving them a $10 Starbucks card when they come back next week, or we commit to donate $20 in their name to a local charity organization that we partner with. Remember, information isn’t free, so plan this in your budget. There’s normally a request for minimal information here and often on the first text is just their name and email. You’ve already captured their mobile numbers since they’ve texted you.

Sean: 09:43 Obviously if this first time guest has checked in kids to your kid’s ministry, then you’re going to have additional information on them. So churches will take that information and then enter it into their database and send follow-up texts that very same day. That text will say something like, we wanted to say thank you for joining us this morning. We hope your experience was great. And that we’ll see again next weekend. If you get a chance, stop by and say hi at the new guest center in our lobby. So you’ve welcomed them, thank them for coming. Invited them back all in one day in a way that’s not invasive or demanding. I heard a phrase recently in a book that I was reading that said, you know, “people don’t like to be sold; they like to buy.” And I think that’s true for our first-time guests, too. Let’s make them feel comfortable by putting them in the buyer role, give them the controls and they have a lot more control when we’re communicating through text and they can decide how to engage and respond.

Sean: 10:36 So now we’ve gotten through our first day of engaging them and we don’t want to overuse this new communication method that we have with them. So many churches wait until the following Friday just to reconnect with them. Now they’ve gotten through their week, they’re likely thinking about their weekend plans at this point and we now have a way to immediately connect back with them and invite them again. And I think this is one of the key reasons that we’re seeing texting working so effectively. We now have an immediate connection to invite them that we didn’t get through email or newsletters or snail mail or really even social media. It’s a direct connection to their phones now. They certainly could opt-out at any time, but when they choose to text you, they also choose to receive texts from you, and if they’re still open to receiving texts from you, it means that they’re still open to engaging with you.

Sean: 11:22 And that’s a really great sign. So Friday the text goes out to the first time guests and that says something like, “We’re glad you joined us for the first time last weekend and we’re hoping to see you again. We have services that, you know, nine 10 30 and noon. Stop by and say hi to the new guest center when you’re here.” Now you’ve started to initially build a relationship and gain some trust and they’re a little more likely to stop by and engage face to face. So many churches will attach some kind of incentive on the second visit to stop by the guest center: gift cards, you know, monetary donations, those charitable organizations, things like that. They still work well at this point in the relationship. The key to getting them to come by the new guest center is that you’re able to track if they returned for a second time.

Sean: 12:08 You can also do that through the kid’s check-in, but you just want to make sure that you have a system to know that they’ve returned for every visit until they’re fully engaged in your church. Churches will then often follow this same pattern of Friday invite texts and guests center connection for the next somewhere to six to eight weeks. And one of the churches that we’ve worked with has a goal of seeing people three times in the first eight weeks. They know if they do, there’s a 60% chance that they’ll stay and become part of the church. So it’s a great step after you see a new guest three or four times to then begin to encourage other next steps. It may be a growth track or a new guest class that they can attend. Certainly, groups and easy entry points to serving are great ways to get them connected and increase their chances of staying part of your church. It’s amazing though to think that people are getting connected to churches all just because of text. I mean that’s a very 21st-century thing.

Amy: 13:02 Yeah, what a great overview. Tony, what are some of the results we’ve seen from churches who are using this strategy of texting?

Tony: 13:08 A couple of examples do come to mind. One Church we’ve been engaged with that has been using this texting follow-up method, they’ve seen their visitor retention rise to 41% over the last 12 months and their attendance has increased by 8% over that same time. So you can see how those two numbers certainly correlate. Another church is seeing over 30% of their first-time guests returning more than four times. So if you have a new guest who attends four times or more over their first couple of months engaged at your church, it’s pretty likely they’re going to stay connected and you have a new attendee at your church. So those are a couple of quick examples to share that we’ve heard from the churches that we’re engaged with, but we’ve been hearing even more stories of success from this texting follow-up strategy and we wanted all the podcast listeners to hear about it so that they can consider utilizing this similar process in their churches as well.

Amy: 14:11 All right. So, Sean, if a church wants to begin using texting as a way to connect and follow-up with new guests, where do they start?

Sean: 14:18 Well, there’s good news. There are several text services that have a primary focus on the church that can help. We won’t be a commercial for any of them today, but you can just Google texting in church and you’ll see several come up. Most of those are affordable and have an easy set-up process with them. Many of them also offer some sort of automation so you can personalize your messaging and then just let the software do the texting for you, which is a really nice feature. Another nice feature is that some of these also integrates with several of the church database systems that are out there. So once people text you their info, it’s automatically captured in your database. There are other options that aren’t as easy to use, but they’re free, which is nice. You could set up a Google Voice account and use the number that they give you as your texting number.

Sean: 15:04 You can manage all of your correspondence from your web browser. It won’t offer you all of the features of the paid solutions, but a Google voice is mostly free. I wouldn’t recommend using a personal number though for lots of privacy reasons. But also because a person is not a system. I mean, if you have Bob do all the texting and follow up and there is no backup plan for Bob. He’s the system and that’s just not a sustainable strategy over time.

Amy: 15:32 All right, well thank you, Sean. Tony, let me throw it back to you for any last thoughts.

Tony: 15:36 Yeah, I just want to agree with Sean that one person isn’t a system. I want to take that one step further though and say you do need one person who is responsible. The team can’t be responsible for this if everyone’s got it, no one’s got it. You need one person who oversees the system for connection and follow-up and makes sure the plan is executed right and this is too critical for our churches not to execute well.

Sean: 16:02 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast, help us get the content out by subscribing and giving us a review and telling your friends about the podcast. At The Unstuck Group, we’re working every day with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences that focus them on vision, strategy, and action. If that’s a need in your church, let’s talk. You can start a conversation by visiting us at Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Have a great week.

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